Drew Cohen Skates Through Life

Drew Cohen appreciated people who are unappreciated.

There are few folks less appreciated than ice hockey referees. For the past 6 years, he’s been one himself.

Remarkably, Drew is just a high school junior.

He plays alto sax in Staples’ jazz band, and gives music lessons to Bridgeport students. But it’s on the ice where his true passion lies. And that’s where he’s made his biggest mark so far.

From age 7 to 14 Drew played hockey in the Greater Bridgeport Junior Hockey League. But even as an 8-year-old he watched the officials. He saw how they skated, made calls and interacted with players and coaches.

“I wanted to get to know them, even if they didn’t want to know me,” Drew says.

USA Hockey logoAt 11, he earned his first certification from USA Hockey. The exam was online. He didn’t have to prove he could skate.

Now — several tests later — he’s a member of the Hockey Referees Association of Connecticut. Though USA Hockey recommends not officiating your own age or higher, he has whistled a collegiate women’s pre-season game.

“I always like things to be fair,” Drew says. “As a referee, you have to be fair. By being fair, you can make the game better.” He’s a strong advocate of mutual respect between players, coaches and officials, and tries to develop that without yelling.

Refereeing is a big responsibility. “You have to act like an adult, and be professional. A 16-year-old can be lazy in some parts of life. But you can’t do that on the ice. You have to make judgments, make calls, and sell them — whether you’re right or wrong.”

Drew Cohen

Drew Cohen

Among Drew’s challenges: explaining calls to coaches and players. Asserting himself when things get personal. Controlling a game when it threatens to get out of hand. Earning respect from colleagues who are 2 or 3 times his age.

It doesn’t always work. Drew shakes his head as he recalls a game in Shelton. A coach would not stop yelling at him.

“I froze,” Drew says. “My partner — across the rink — screamed at the coach. I didn’t have the courage to stand up to someone much older.” He pauses. “This season I will, though.”

He explains the key qualities of a good referee: consistency in calls, confidence and communication (verbal and non-verbal). Of course, a hockey official must also skate well. And he has to really, really know the rules.

Every year, Drew heads to Canada for a referee camp. A number of National Hockey League officials are there. He has gotten to know many of them. He emails them with questions, and after a recent preseason game in Bridgeport an NHL ref gave him a game puck.

The hockey referee fraternity is “like a family,” Drew says. “It goes from the NHL down to me. We all look out for each other. We know everyone puts up with a lot of stuff.”

Drew Cohen gets ready for action.

Drew Cohen gets ready for action.

When he calls a game well, Drew feels a sense of satisfaction. His confidence grows — and not just on the ice.

“Most of the times when you’re young, you’re not in a position of power. You can’t affect things,” he says. “Doing this makes the rest of life seem easy.”

Yet Drew knows that — even before a game begins — people have judged him by his age and size. “Sometimes I’ve been reffing longer than my 24-year-old partner. I just have to accept that I’ll be judged. If I get a complex about it, I’ll be refereeing for someone, and not for the game.”

The best compliment he gets is rare, but meaningful: “We didn’t even notice you out there.”

The money is good. Last season, Drew earned more than $2,000. This year he’s aiming for $3,000.

His goal is to be an NCAA Division I official within 10 years. At one point, that seemed far off. Now — working at the highest level possible for his age — he thinks he can do it.

So what advice does he have for anyone else thinking of becoming a hockey referee?

“Don’t try to prove yourself,” he says. “Just be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.”

11 responses to “Drew Cohen Skates Through Life

  1. Drew what a great example you are to others your age and those that are older.

    It looks like your having fun too! That’s what it’s all about. Stand up for those calls you need to and the others skate away.

    Your a great mentor! Keep up the great work.

  2. Having watched Drew over the years as he has passionately pursued his hockey referee goal up at the rinks in Shelton, I can testify that he is just as this article describes and more. Nice to encounter teenage boys like Drew, and his (quietly supportive) parents are good people too – they’re often in the stands watching THEIR son play his sport.

  3. Great game face!

  4. Kudos to Drew. I did soccer reffing on the rarest of occasions many years and, from my perspective, it was much harder than playing soccer. I wish more fans had that appreciation for how difficult a job being a ref is. And, unfortunately, as noted above, that goes for some coaches as well.

    I recently saw a Staples soccer game where the opposing coach was berating the ref in such a loud tone of voice that you could hear him across the field up on the hill. Totally unacceptable.

    • I agree, Fred, that refs have to focus even more than the players (and with no breaks on the bench!).
      Refs and umpires at this age also have to deal with coaches and parents who disagree with calls. Having the smarts and confidence to defend a call is a life lesson we all could learn from.
      My daughter, umpiring Little League in her early teens once had to throw a coach out of the game, while as a hockey goalie she had to also respect the ref’s call. Everyone should have a glimpse from both sides.

  5. Drew Cohen is simply one of my absolute favorite people on the planet!!!!!

  6. Mary Ellen Rose

    Yay, Drew!

  7. It is such a pleasure to know Drew. He is intentional about making a positive difference in the world – whether it is with a kind word, a smile or a fair call on the ice. I’m impressed with his intelligence, his thoughtfulness and his magic tricks! I look forward to seeing where Drew is going to go in life. Wherever it is – it will be better because of him.

  8. So very proud of you Drew. I vividly recall your early interest in officiating when we visited your family a few years ago. As a fellow official in Southern California (college basketball), I know the hard work, training and character that is required to succeed. Those next higher levels are awaiting you and there is no doubt you’ll achieve your goals. (Uncle Greg)

  9. Richard Fisher

    Drew: A great write-up that reflects your life’s philosophy and your personality. We are proud of you!! Gramps